Sports and American Literature
Michael Cocchiarale and Scott D. Emmert
Like fast-food franchises and name-brand coffee houses, sports are virtually everywhere in America. While that, admittedly, is an obvious comment, the very ubiquity of sports (or, more precisely, our mediated encounter of sports as spectacle) tends to create a curious reaction. We take athletic contests for granted, the way we take for granted that water will flow from our taps and electricity will stream from the outlets in our walls. As a result, much about sports seems commonplace, even as (ironically) individual events and athletes receive unprecedented hype and scrutiny. Even the truly special accomplishments of contemporary athletes—Lance Armstrong, the American bicyclist who battled back from cancer to win his fifth straight Tour de France; Ben Curtis, the PGA rookie who won the prestigious British Open; and Annika Sorenstam, who became the first female golfer to play in a PGA event in fifty-eight years, to take just three examples from 2003—seem transitory, the subject of current headlines and passing interest. As with other mass-marketed entertainment, sports exemplify postmodern culture’s investment in the current moment. Participation in such a culture—sporting and otherwise—is often less a matter of direct involvement than of detached and enervated spectatorship.
The current climate of omnipresent mediated sports results in noise without meaning, stimulation without reflection. As a result, intriguing issues about the current sporting scene often go unexamined. Have we registered, for instance, the irony that although Americans now have more and better athletic equipment and exercise facilities, we are nonetheless faced with an epidemic of obesity? Have we noticed the fact that intellectual precocity is oftentimes denigrated as “geeky,” yet prodigies of the sporting world such as basketball player LeBron James and golfer Michelle Wie are looked upon with awe and wonder? The national obsession with sports in America—evidenced by twenty-four-hour cable channels and sports talk radio outlets—has created much more chatter about the games people play yet has also, paradoxically, led